The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It’s paper all right, but strictly cash
- Unlicensed passenger vehicles get a ticket to ride on payment of daily ‘insurance’

The corridor to chaos is lined with cash. Or so it would seem, if one scratches the surface of the traffic-management mess.

Almost every vehicle pays something of an ‘insurance amount’ to the unions, for them to tackle any trouble that crops up, in the form of a police crackdown or a public vehicles department (PVD) drive. The rates may vary — from an auto-rickshaw to a Trekker to a bus — but the service the unlicensed vehicles get in lieu does not. A Trekker in and around Barasat pays Rs 40 a day every day to the local Citu unit. For the 50-odd autos that ply between Madhyamgram and Sodepur, the amount is the same, but it sees them through a month. For the 80-odd three-wheelers that ply between Dunlop and Barrackpore, the ‘steer-clear-of-trouble tax’ is Rs 2 every day.

Like autos here, there and everywhere, there are buses that run on the northern fringes of the city without licences. This ‘sector’ is a little different from the others in terms of payment to the union. Scrapping the practice of coughing up Rs 24 for each bus every month, the union has now decided to extract Rs 3 from every driver and conductor (stationed at the front door) and Rs 1.50 from every conductor (at the rear door) every day. All this adds up to a tidy sum by the end of the year, admit union leaders. But they are quick to clarify that not every rupee stays with the union. “We pay the police (every traffic guard and police station) every month,” declares an auto-operator in Dunlop.

In many of the cases, whole routes — not just vehicles — are unapproved, like the Trekker service around Barasat. Twenty-odd vehicles ply — carrying 22 passengers, apart from the driver and the cleaner at a go — without the police doing anything to stop the practice. One small example would suffice to highlight the clout these illegal transport-operators enjoy. The North 24-Parganas district magistrate’s office had ordered the seizure of a few buses plying in the urban belt for flouting traffic rules. The buses were impounded but they were back on the streets the same night. And they still run — without following a single rule in the book.

Pause for a moment to reflect on some special occasions every year — during rallies to the Brigade or other political programmes — when these illegally-run vehicles come in very handy for the party in power. And you have another reason why turning a blind eye makes sound business sense.

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